In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I asked my community, through a personal Facebook post, who they believed to be the cutest couple in Highland County. While there were a TON of cute couples named, one consistent answer trended – Austin and Dot Shepherd.
The funny thing – I happen to know these two very well. Dot is my grandmother, and Austin is my step-grandfather.
The funnier thing is – when I created that Facebook post, I had NO IDEA the answer would be this pair. Though, when I kept seeing their names, I couldn’t be surprised. I know how much they’re loved by this community.
One reason I have to giggle a bit (and I’m giggling as I write this) is because they’re not always a cute couple. (But even when they aren’t, they are still pretty cute.)
If you’ve spent any length of time around these two, you’ve probably seen my Grandma get pretty annoyed with Austin.
“My gosh, he’s so slow,” she says.
“Be quiet, now. Nobody wants to hear your jokes,” she scolds.
“Austin, now, you quit that!”
“He can’t hear a thing…”
All the while, Austin, who really can’t hear a whole lot these days, is giggling and goofing off in the background.
It’s quite hilarious sometimes.
There was a time, several years ago, when I thought, “How on earth did these two even get together? Grandma seems annoyed all the time.”
But… soon after I had that wonder, Austin fell in the hallway at their home and broke his hip.
A neighboring EMT responded immediately while the rescue squad came. They loaded Austin up and took him to the University of Virginia Medical Center. Grandma, feeling absolutely helpless, watched the ambulance pull out of the driveway.
In the following days, we kept in contact with Austin’s daughters who were with him at the hospital.
Grandma was on pins and needles. She has anxiety (or “nerves,” as she puts it) anyway, but when a family member is in trouble, it’s all she can do to maintain.
She finally couldn’t take it anymore and had to make the trip to UVA to see him. We loaded her up in the car, and she twitched and squirmed the whole way over the mountains.
When we got to Austin’s room, she literally (but without realizing it) shoved her way around me and through the people standing in the entrance of the room.
I still get choked up thinking about the scene I witnessed unfold…
As soon as they locked eyes, they both started sobbing. Austin, wide-eyed with surprise, reached for his love with open arms, and Grandma surrendered into his embrace. They put their foreheads together, sobbed, and held each other.
All of us watching couldn’t help but be emotional. We exchanged glances that conveyed how lucky we were to witness such pure love. Eyes watered, cheeks became moist with tears, hands covered mouths to hold back emotion… The room went silent except for the occasional sniffle or gasp. We were all struck to our core.
“This is probably the longest they’ve been away from each other in years,” someone said. But Grandma and Austin couldn’t hear us. To them, there was no one else in the room or on the earth in that moment.
THAT was the first time I believe I ever saw true love.
You see, and what I’ve come to learn is, true love isn’t pretty all the time. It takes work, hard work.
And, sometimes, you annoy the crap out of your person.
And, sometimes, you probably seriously think “Why on earth did I marry this idiot?”
And, even sometimes, you can’t even stand the sight of them.
I don’t know if that’s true for some of the cute couples mentioned in my Facebook post. I can’t imagine some of those veteran couples ever having dark days, but I’m willing to bet they all have.
And, I’m willing to bet Grandma and Austin have, too.
I’d never seen them be very outwardly loving towards each other until that day. But, watching them in that moment, there was no denying how much they needed each other, that what they had was something others only dream of.
So, if you’re lucky enough to have a Valentine on this Valentine’s Day (or any day, for that matter), I hope you have a drop of the love and devotion I witnessed that day at UVA.
Also, I hope you have a lot less tendency to annoy each other…
Here’s to Grandma, Austin, and all the other wonderful, strong couples in our community who set such a good example of what true love is really supposed to be like, who are good role models to other couples and individuals who are still trying to figure out and navigate this tricky emotion.
Because, gosh… If you can find it, the real it, I hope you know just how lucky you are.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Highland. Spread some love.
About the Author
Dorothy Stephenson grew up on her family's cattle operation in Meadowdale, located in the southwest corner of Highland County. When she wasn't on horseback helping her father gather and work cattle, you'd likely find her (still on horseback) jumping creeks in her family's nearby "Big Pasture." Today, though she doesn't ride horses much anymore, she has her own cattle, land, and expansion plans for a farm. Additionally, (and with the inherited, Stephenson, entrepreneurial spirit) she owns two small businesses in Highland County - Sundance Media & Design and Sundance Studio & Productions, which houses another of Dorothy's long-time loves - Clogging. Dorothy loves exploring new places, skills, and ideas, and she intends to live life to the fullest as long as it will let her. (Oh! And she LOVES Christmas!)